When I was visiting Tunisia last year, our tour stopped at a parking lot in Carthage where our guide had us exit the bus and look in one direction... towards a Islamic mosque. Then he had us look the opposite direction... towards a Christian church. He proudly told us that while Tunisia was predominantly Muslim, other faiths were welcome to worship there, and everybody gets along with their neighbors just fine even though they may worship in different ways. He then went on to say how Tunisians welcome and even encourages those of the Jewish faith to make an annual pilgrimage to their island of Djerba, where there's a famous synagogue housing one of the oldest handwritten copies of the Torah in existence. He was intent on getting across that Jews and Muslims aren't always enemies, and mutual respect goes a long ways towards a peaceful coexistence between faiths in Tunisia...
Looking one way... El Abidine Mosque
Looking the other... La cathédrale Saint-Louis de Carthage
It reminded me of when I was visiting Istanbul (in Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country) and the guide there remarked that it was not uncommon to have a mosque, church, and synagogue all within a short walking distance, with people of different faiths all living together peacefully in the same neighborhood.
Which in turn reminded me of when I was in Bali (in Indonesia, another predominantly Muslim country) and noted that a mosque, church, synagogue, and even a Buddhist temple could literally be built side-by-side with nobody thinking anything odd about it at all. The Balinese people may worship differently, but they can work, live, and play together just the same.
Not to say that some hateful morons don't occasionally come along and try to fuck up the peace for everybody. It seems there's always sad news about religious violence happening somewhere. Whether it be radical gangs torching a synagogue... or a mosque getting burned down by religious extremists... or a government committing violent acts in the name of a religion and a people they don't truly represent... or some other tragic event that undermines peaceful coexistence. But this is an unfortunate element that's present in all societies, and is contrary to the vast majority of people who simply want to live and worship in peace, regardless of what religion they adhere to.
Turns out that people are people wherever you go and, despite fundamental differences in our beliefs, it's an underlying desire to coexist in peace which unites us as humans...
Click to embiggen Scarboro Missions' excellent Golden Rule poster.
And that just reminded me of how Egyptian Muslims formed a human shield so Egyptian Coptic Christians could worship in peace at Christmas Mass after a recent bombing... just as Egyptian Christians formed a human shield so Egyptian Muslim protestors could perform their daily prayers without fear of attack during the recent uprising. In the end, these people have decided that they are all Egyptians, and banding together in unity despite their differences was their strength...
Christians form a human shield in Egypt... photo copyright Nevine Zaki
Which brings me to the entire point of this blog entry and how it relates to my country.
Because I find it alternately amusing and disgusting that the same people who feel that the USA is a "Christian Nation" and should be governed by "Christian principles" are completely losing their shit over the idea that "Islamic Nations" like Tunisia and Egypt may form new governments where "Islamic principles" play a part. As if freedom is only freedom and democracy is only democracy if they are governed by "Christian beliefs" at their core.
Personally, I think governments should be free of religious dogma and let religion function as an independent entity of personal choice (sound familiar?) but the hypocrisy of some Conservatives in the USA dictating that groups like The Muslim Brotherhood should have no voice in the government of Islamic nations is laughable. It's like if Muslims in Turkey suddenly dictated that Christian Conservatives should have no voice in the US government. Americans would lose their minds. Rush Limbaugh would fucking explode. And then he'd probably say we have to eat chicken at Thanksgiving because Turkey is anti-American or some stupid shit like that (you laugh... but remember Freedom Fries?).
And people wonder why The Middle East is so unstable. I don't want to get overly-political or analytical here, but from what I've seen with my own eyes, experienced in my own travels, and have confirmed by making Muslim friends both around the world and here at home... Islam having a voice in politics is not the problem. Forcing a country to adopt a system of leadership and government that is not representative of its peoples or serving their best interests, however, is a very big problem.
So let these countries find their own way. Encourage them to find their own way.
Because that's real democracy in action. Because that's what's going to produce a stable, prosperous country. Because that's what's going to make an ally not only for the United States of America, but for the world. People, at their heart, just want to worship as they choose and live in peace. Let this be the guiding force that rebuilds these countries. It worked pretty well for the USA.
At least in the beginning.
Yes, this may result in a government which is not in step with America's interests. Yes, there's no way of knowing where it will lead. Yes, there's a risk that some radical group might commandeer the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia and get their peoples into a bigger mess than they are already in... but give the people a chance. Trust that in their heart they just want to worship as they choose and live in peace.
Just like most everybody else on this planet.